Leading figures from the world of conservation and wildlife protection turned out for the official opening of Duke Kunshan’s first Water Towns Environmental Film and Arts Festival on Thursday evening.
Special guests Steve Blake, chief China representative for international NGO WildAid, and Duke professor Stuart Pimm, a world-renowned expert on present-day extinctions and efforts to prevent them, joined students, faculty and staff at a red carpet reception.
Youmei Feng, the chancellor of Duke Kunshan, also spoke on the university’s commitment to sustainable development before a screening of “Saving the Porpoise,” a movie that follows Chinese pianist Lang Lang as he uncovers the tragic story of Mexico’s endangered vaquita porpoise.
The films to be screened at the festival “will help us appreciate the splendor and beauty of our planet, and at the same time raise awareness to protect Mother Earth,” Feng said.
Earlier in the day, audiences enjoyed lectures from Thomas Johnson, an expert on “smog art” from the U.K.’s University of Sheffield, and Bowdoin College professor Shu-chin Tsui on “eco-cinema.”
The festival, which runs through Sunday, will feature 61 movies from 16 countries, namely China, the United States, Uruguay, Mexico, India, Colombia, Brazil, Pakistan, the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Ecuador, Egypt, Norway, Canada and Germany.
In addition to movie screenings, there will be guest talks by experts in pollution, plastics recycling, environmental policy and the zero-waste movement, among other areas; an environmentally themed scavenger hunt; and artist exhibitions and performances, including by Kong Ning, whose unique, immersive style combines art, fashion and the environment.
Francis Sollano, the internationally acclaimed visual artist and fashion designer from the Philippines, will talk on his pioneering work in contemporary “trashion” art, which involves making pieces from nontoxic, nonorganic household and industrial garbage.
Activities on the first three days are on campus, with the final day moving to the ancient Jinxi water town, where there will be a fashion gala and an award ceremony to announce the winner of the Jinxi Prize for best short film.
“Movies are not like advertisements. People see a movie on plastics, or one of our films on wildlife, or on climate change, and it really plants a seed. They leave an impression,” said Blake, whose NGO targets the illegal trade in wildlife.
“It’s impossible not to want to change something about your life after seeing some of these films. That’s the most important thing about events like the Water Towns film festival.”